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Album Review: High on Fire – Electric Messiah

High on Fire’s gravely frontman and certified riff wizard Matt Pike is a humble, down-to-earth dude.  Just watch any old video interview with him to see how he’d seemingly rather rant about conspiracy theories and Sumerian reptoids than talk up his music.  The humility is an interesting contrast to a band who have been an absolute wrecking ball in the heavy metal scene for 20 years now, and yet the promotion of the Oakland trio’s 8th studio album Electric Messiah was uncharacteristically aggressive and giddy.  It was obvious that Pike & co. had something they wanted us all to hear real bad, and October 5th finally saw the release of what Matt Pike says is “by far the best High on Fire record ever.”

Is it the band’s best record ever?  That certainly is a bold statement, what with classics to the genre such as Blessed Black Wings and Death Is This Communion already under their belts.  Then again, High on Fire have steadfastly given fans something new on each album, and Electric Messiah is far from an exception. And you know what?  It fucking rips so hard that I wouldn’t dare question such praise.

Fans and newcomers alike will be given no opportunity to brace for impact as Pike, Matz, and Kensel hit as hard as ever from the first nanosecond.  Never has there been a more fitting title to an opening track as “Spewn From The Earth.” The lyrics that speak of cryogenically frozen giants that awaken to reclaim the planet as their own work as a metaphor for any fool that forgot High on Fire own the very concept of heavy.  The speedy, unrelenting riffage leads directly into “Steps of the Ziggurat/House of Enlil,” Matt Pike’s self-described “Sumerian rock opera.” It’s a pummeling war march that is Electric Messiah’s answer to Death Is This Communion’s title track, just more menacing.

“Electric Messiah,” the album’s speedy, thrash n’ roll tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister, is the badass segue into “Sanctioned Annihilation,” High on Fire’s longest track to date (clocking in at 10 and a half minutes).  This song has a pulsating and unnerving sense of urgency to it that matches the vibes of “How Dark We Pray” from 2010’s Snakes for the Divine. It also borrows lyrics from that same album’s track “Fire, Flood & Plague” in a unique callback.  It’s a pretty wild ride.

The next three tracks I affectionately refer to as “the big three” (or side C for those listening on vinyl).  The first is “The Pallid Mask,” a surprisingly jaunty track that feels like an unapologetic barrage of grinning uppercuts.  “God of the Godless” then comes in with some truly reeling guitar leads from Pike and some slow and low chugging on the drums from Des Kensel.  It’s the kind of track that leaks nervous anxiety, like slowly drifting into the void of space while watching your planet become smaller and smaller and smaller.  You’ll be pulled back to earth in no time though with “Freebooter,” a song about being a pirate. You heard me right. Matt Pike wrote a fucking pirate song, and it’s by far one of the strongest moments on the album.  Here Matt Pike gives one of his most ferocious vocal performances ever while whipping out decorative leads, and Jeff Matz keeps everyone in line with a relentless assault of speedy bass.

Next up is “The Witch and the Christ,” which sets a pretty high bar for all penultimate tracks of the future.  This song sees every member of High on Fire at their very best. Matz’s bass grooves in and out of multiple tempos, as does Kensel’s thunderous drumming.  Pike churns out some of his most ambitious riffs since De Vermis Mysteriis, many of which should please even those jaded HoF fans that yearn for the old days of Surrounded by Thieves.  That leads us to the melodic closing track “Drowning Dog,” easily the best album closer in High on Fire’s now eight record discography. It’s a fist-pumping, arena-ready jam that brings a successful end to the conquest laid forth at the beginning of the album.  With Pike’s powerful, growling croon of “Goddamn you! You’re the shadows of man,” High on Fire show that they have nothing left to prove, if they ever did to begin with.

I went into Electric Messiah intrigued by the unusual hype that Matt Pike was placing on it.  By the end, I wondered if he had hyped it enough.  Pike, Kensel and Matz are still a well-oiled war machine, and this new slab of tracks shows them operating with a full tank of gas and their blades freshly sharpened. Placed anywhere in the High on Fire timeline, Electric Messiah would be considered a stellar achievement.  As the latest in a 20 year career, it’s a fucking coup de grace.

Electric Messiah was released Oct. 5th through eOne Records.

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